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Williamson Leaves Piranhas

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a surprise, Piranhas Coach Mike Hohensee announced Monday that Ron Lopez will be the starting quarterback for Saturday’s season opener against New Jersey at the Pond. The announcement stunned preseason starter Lee Williamson, who left camp Monday.

Williamson, a 6-foot-4 left-hander who spent three years on the Houston Oilers roster, was the front-runner for the No. 1 job entering training camp and Hohensee had said the position was Williamson’s to lose. In two exhibition game starts, Williamson completed 21 of 36 passes for 221 yards and three touchdowns.

“To be honest, this is one of the most unexpected things I thought I’d hear,” Williamson said. “I was more in shock than anything when I heard it. The reason being, I thought I played well and did everything they asked me to do. I honestly feel in my heart that if I was the quarterback of this team, we’d win games.

“I don’t feel like I deserve to be the No. 2 guy. I’m not going to put myself in that situation.”

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Said Hohensee: “All I’m thinking about is the team. The first part of the schedule is really tough. The game is real quick. Lee wasn’t seeing it as quickly as Ron, not that he wouldn’t three or four weeks down the line.”

Lopez, who played at Utah State, spent the last two seasons in Iowa backing up All-Arena quarterback Kurt Warner. He completed 21 of 36 passes for 221 yards and three touchdowns with one interception in the Piranhas’ two victories. Hohensee said the coaching staff and the receiving corps thought Lopez should be the starter.

“The tempo of the offense was better with Ron,” Hohensee said. “He got rid of the ball quicker. Lee took a beating. He had a tendency to hold onto the ball longer.”

Hohensee said Williamson’s decision to leave the team caught him off guard. He had expected Williamson to be his No. 2 quarterback. Instead, rookie Mark Grieb of UC Davis will back up Lopez. Grieb has looked sharp in two games, completing 10 of 14 passes for 113 yards and two touchdowns.

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“I’m saddened by his departure,” Hohensee said. “We’re losing a good person and a good player, but I understand he isn’t happy. He said his main reason for coming here was to show the NFL scouts his knee was OK.”

Williamson, 28, said he will go home to Atlanta and pursue other opportunities in the Arena Football League and the NFL. He said he did not walk away from guaranteed money with the Piranhas.

“I respect the coach for his decision,” he said. “I think this team has a chance to win the Arena Bowl. I just wish I was the one taking them there.”

In other moves, the Piranhas released defensive specialist Dante Abron of Northern Arizona, offensive specialist Obadiah Cooper of Eastern Illinois, wide receiver Manley Woods of New Mexico, fullback/linebacker Mike Jones of USC and lineman Scott Bailey of West Virginia.

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They also placed three players on injured reserve--receiver/defensive back Jerrick Bledsoe of Texas, lineman Clarence Siler of Cal State Fullerton and receiver/linebacker Jemone Smith of Indiana (Pa.)--and activated defensive specialist Rodney Mazion (Nevada Las Vegas) from the injured list.


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